Perpetuating the Wrong Image of Native Americans
Jackson, E. Newton, Jr., Lyons, Robert, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Sports, the great American pastime, play a unifying role in the community. Most sports teams, at all playing levels, have a mascot that creates an identifiable and common supporter relationship between an organization and members of a community.
One of the common mascots used by sports teams on all competitive levels is a stereotyped representation of Native Americans. During the early years of this decade, extensive, national media coverage of Native American mascots and team names alerted the American public to a serious moral, national issue (Davis, 1993). Coakley (1990) stated:
Chief Wahoo, the mascot used by the Cleveland Indians baseball team is nothing but a disrespectful caricature of Native Americans. Hundreds of high school and colleges use similar caricatures as a basis for their future names and mascots, and in doing so they perpetuate the stereotypes that have contributed to the unemployment, alcoholism, and dependency of many native peoples (p. 206).
The use of Native American mascots in American sports offends many Native American people; largely because the majority of the mascots demean and misrepresent Native American heritage and culture. Native American reporter Tom Giago (1991) requested that the sport industry, "stop insulting the spirituality and the traditional beliefs of the Indian people by making us mascots for the athletic teams. Is that asking too much of America?"
Should the practice of degrading and humiliating Native American people continue today in the arena of sports? This nation has become "home" for people worldwide who seek equality. It is ironic that the indigenous people on this continent are denied that equality.
Since the early 1900s, Indian names and caricatures have appeared as team logos for many of America's sports teams. The fact that these caricatures have lasted for so long is a testament to the long-lasting effects of overt racism. Names such as "Washington Redskins," "Chief Wahoo," and the Atlanta Braves' "Chief Noc-a-homa" (the name is meant to read "Knock a Homer") have been criticized by Native Americans. Dennis Banks, a member of the American Indian Movement, exclaimed:
Why do these people continue to make mockery of our culture? We Indian people never looked the way these caricatures portray our culture. Nor have we ever made mockery of the white people. So then why do they do this to us? It is painful to see a mockery of our ways (1993, p. 5).
However, thanks to the efforts of groups like the American Indian Movement, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Rainbow Coalition's Commission for Fairness in Athletics, progress is being made in eradicating the demeaning names and caricatures.
Yet, a majority of game spectators hold one of two perspectives: (1) the team name and the ethnic mascot does not matter to them and they are completely unconcerned and (2) they are vocally outraged that Native Americans and their supporters could consider altering such an old tradition.
The media has helped to perpetuate stereotypes of Native Americans (Eager, 1980, p. 4). "The struggle to change attitudes and stereotypes about Native Americans has made it essential for Indians to participate in media, determining how Indian concerns and realities are presented." (Baird, 1980, p. 9).
Pressure from Native American organizations and sectors of the American public have caused some higher education institutions to drop their sports teams' Indian names and offensive logos. The athletics board at The University of Iowa has joined its counterparts at two other Big Ten Conference institutions. They have banned from athletics events mascots that depict American Indians. St. John's University in New York City announced its team name would no longer be the "Redmen," but rather the "Red Storm." As the controversies concerning traditions and mascots increase, more campuses are concluding that American Indian mascots are offensive. …